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I'm quite new to stackexchange and I'm getting more and more fond of the model for every day I use it. I just love how order is kept by the community as a whole and that the need for involvment of moderators is very low (at least that's what I think, maybe you guys work like animals 24 hours a day!). The model very much relies on crowd-sourcing, and that's really cool!

That being said, after having been lurking around the site for a bit more than a month now, I've noted that the answer accepting feature doesn't work as well as the rest of the site. More often than not, the answer is not accepted at all, especially when new users appear and ask the standard homework questions. Also, it's very common that the answer receiving the most upvotes, i.e. the one the community thinks is the best answer, is not the accepted one. And, though not very often, occasionally a wrong answer gets accepted.

This makes me wonder if the answer acceptance feature is needed at all. I do understand the upside of having it, since the user posting the question in most cases should be the one deciding which answer fits him/her best. But when it comes to more advanced subjects, such as math; is the question poster really better fitted to judge which answer should be accepted than the community?

One solution would be to remove the feature completely, letting the answer with the most upvotes being the "accepted" one. Another, less radical solution, would be to base the color coding now showing if the answer is accepted or not on how many upvotes the best answer has got. If it's over a certain threshold, the question is marked as answered.

I'm sure this has been discussed before in more "central" SE sites, since it's about the "global" SE model, but I thought I'd post it here anyway! Flame away!

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    $\begingroup$ Educated and diligent askers of questions use the feature correctly. Ignorant or disinterested posters do not use it, or use it incorrectly. Should the site be optimized for the former or for the latter group? $\endgroup$ – user90090 Aug 15 '13 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ I honestly don't know. I think both. Or, rather, it should be optimized for any future user using it as a fantastic Q+A site where it's very easy to extract the most relevant information. Maybe? $\endgroup$ – Daniel R Aug 15 '13 at 18:02
  • $\begingroup$ In that case, it should be optimized toward questions from which future users will benefit. Substantive, well written answers to nontrivial questions do get accepted: consider this user's catalog. $\endgroup$ – user90090 Aug 15 '13 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ A lot of this what you describe is "status by design". For example, you wrote that "More often than not, the answer is not accepted at all, especially when new users appear and ask the standard homework questions." Most of these "transient" users do not even bother registering their account. It is quite likely that after posting their question, they no longer have access to the unregistered account used. And so it is in fact technically impossible for them to accept an answer. $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Aug 16 '13 at 7:42
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    $\begingroup$ In regards to the "Another, less radical solution, would be to base the color coding now showing if the answer is accepted or not on how many upvotes the best answer has got.": that is already the algorithm used for displaying the "Unanswered" tab. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/18870/… $\endgroup$ – Willie Wong Aug 16 '13 at 7:43
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    $\begingroup$ You seem to be implying that "Upvotes$\Rightarrow$Best". Unfortunately, this is not always true. Upvotes are skewed towards earlier answers (often an hour is enough to make an irreparable difference), and many (most? some?) users just give the answer a cursory glance ("looks fine to me!"). Accepting answers allows the OP to choose the best, most helpful answer, rather than the one that got in first and just looks fine. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Aug 16 '13 at 10:03
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729 True, although you shouldn't rely solely on that - sometimes users accept answers that allowed them to continue, but they neglect an answer showing them how to start properly. It's more of an issue on stackoverflow.com, but here it also happens that the accepted answer merely provides the solution, but another one shows a sophisticated way to obtain it in a more generalizable way $\endgroup$ – Tobias Kienzler Aug 19 '13 at 7:36
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    $\begingroup$ Acceptance based on highest score wouldn't work because often questions get revived and scores change and sometimes this would lead to the accepted question changing. You could put a time limit on the acceptance and then leave it fixed, but considering the point of @user1729's comment, that's not as straightforward a problem as it might seem. The acceptance feature draws a clear cut line under the question: "Does the OP really need any more help?". Given the community dimension, you can still add an answer after that point if you think it would be helpful in general. $\endgroup$ – Geoff Pointer Jan 12 '14 at 2:33
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It is a good feature to have because it gives the answerer incentive to attempt to help the asker, rather than just give an answer that the rest of the community thought was interesting. Basically, it gives the asker an extra layer of "authority" over the quality of answers to his or her question.

Personally, I share your sentiment that the feature just doesn't make much sense a lot of the time here. It's a carry over from stackoverflow.com, the original platform, which is a programming site, so accepting an answer made a lot more sense there. Essentially there accepting an answer meant "I tried this, and now my code compiles/my code doesn't give a segmentation fault/(insert solved problem here). Thanks!" which doesn't really work out so well here, since there's usually not a precise way to verify whether or not an answer is correct. Since all sites in the network run on the same platform, the feature exists on all sites, and to remove it from one site would require removing it from all sites, or developing a completely separate platform for this site and updating/maintaining it separately from the other sites. That's a lot of trouble just to remove one feature, so it would probably never happen.

So in general, we just encourage people to accept the answer that was most helpful to them. What that means is entirely up to the asker.

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  • $\begingroup$ All sites in the network run on the same platform, but they still have diffrent visual design, separate posts, TeX is enabled here and disabled there. Why would it be a problem to add a parameter for enabled/disabled accepting? I realise that (contrary to TeX) it is also a matter of backend but it still doesn't look like a big deal. $\endgroup$ – savick01 Aug 23 '13 at 10:57
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You make an interesting point. In the past, I have been on the wrong side of an OP who demonstrated ignorance by accepting an obviously wrong/useless answer.

But despite the potential for ignorance, I still think the system as is works. The OP should be the ultimate judge of what's useful to them. All we can do is urge the OP to rethink.

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    $\begingroup$ I am struggling to work out the significance of your first link? (I understand your second fine though.) $\endgroup$ – user1729 Aug 16 '13 at 10:07
  • $\begingroup$ The first link, the now-deleted answer was the accepted answer. (The answer was deleted by a moderator only recently.) That can be deduced from the comments, including those in the deleted answer. $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon Aug 16 '13 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, sorry, I didn't do enough digging. Thanks for the clarification. $\endgroup$ – user1729 Aug 16 '13 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ @user1729: the perversity of the examples I cited was that, in both cases, the authors of the accepted answers admitted in the comments that what they posted was wrong/useless, and the OP still accepted. Some folks on this site don't really have much invested in it I guess. $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon Aug 16 '13 at 12:29
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    $\begingroup$ Also, in the first answer, not only does the answerer admit he is wrong, he a) states in his answer that he hates algebra too much to check his work, and b) asks us (@AntonioVargas and me) to check his work for him and figure out how to create a correct answer from his drek - long after I had already put up a correct answer! Really, just amazing chutzpah. $\endgroup$ – Ron Gordon Aug 16 '13 at 14:06
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Though I cannot give you an ad-lib example from math.SE, I have also encountered questions (across the entire SE network) where the top-voted answers were rather amusing/interesting/well-generalized but not as helpful (or, say, quickly applicable) as the low-voted answer the OP accepted. The accepting-mechanism together with voting is a great way to give you two indicators on which answer helps most:

  • The answer the OP considered solving their problem at hand, or a similar one you might have
  • The answers the community consider most helpful for others with similar problems but which may go well beyond the original question (cf. XY problem)

As a non-math.SE example take this mathematica question where even OP admits that the top-voted answer is awesome-er than the accepted one but the latter solves the specific problem

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  • $\begingroup$ I’m not going to dig for examples, but I’ve seen this fairly often, since my first priority is answering the specific question, and I tend to prefer elementary methods for solving elementary problems. Like you, I don’t consider it a problem: different kinds of answers can serve different purposes. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Aug 16 '13 at 13:35

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